Godwin’s Law, And Why Hysteria Won’t Win The Day

If President Trump does what he announced he would do, name his nominee to sit in the seat once occupied by Antonin Scalia, the past 24 hours of hysteria will be replaced by the next 24 hours of hysteria. The biggest question is whether there are any more adjectives available to proclaim that Trump is “literally Hitler”?

It’s not exactly a new phenomenon on the internets. That’s why Mike Godwin came up with the meme:

Godwin’s law (or Godwin’s rule of Hitler analogies) is an Internet adage which asserts that “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Hitler approaches 1″ — that is, if an online discussion (regardless of topic or scope) goes on long enough, sooner or later someone will compare someone or something to Hitler.

Promulgated by American attorney and author Mike Godwin in 1990, Godwin’s law originally referred specifically to Usenet newsgroup discussions. It is now applied to any threaded online discussion, such as Internet forums, chat rooms, and comment threads, as well as to speeches, articles, and other rhetoric where reductio ad Hitlerum occurs.

But this time it’s different. This time it’s REAL!!! The Holocaust is happening right in front of us!!! And if you don’t see it, if you don’t become hysterical about it too, then you are either blind or one of them. How can you not SEE IT?!?

The latest rounds of outrage central stem from the ill-conceived and horribly implemented “Muslim Ban,” inflamed by the immediately-to-be-former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates debacle. One can either parse these occurrences for what they are, or enjoy blind outrage. One is far harder than the other, and the other enjoys the camaraderie of the similarly outraged.

The problem is twofold. First, that these things aren’t the end of the world in themselves, and to a great extent, reflect a state of law that existed before Trump’s presidency and happened in the past, though nobody even noticed, no less lost their shit about it. Second, the conflation of misinformation (no, Yates did not say she determined that the Trump Executive Order was unconstitutional, and screaming 1000 times at the top of your lungs doesn’t change that), process (Yates’ decision that she could not, in good conscience, enforce the EO is a perfectly reasonable, indeed, admirable, decision, but that doesn’t make her handling of it any more appropriate) and structural damage.

The last aspect, structural damage, demands further explication. It may be bad enough that the President of the United States is operating in ways that are structurally destructive to our system of government. Then again, smart people realized that Donald Trump, for all his shallow bluster, lacked the knowledge and experience to enable him to govern. He demonstrated no grasp of law or governance. And yet, he was elected President.

Sally Yates wasn’t elected president. She wasn’t elected anything. I know, you adore what she said yesterday, so she’s your hero du jour, even though many, asked to say who she was, would have guessed she was one of the desperate women on TV’s The Bachelor. She thinks Trump’s EO was “unwise and unjust.” So do I. So do many of us.

But some of us still want a functionable government after this experiment comes to an end. And this is where we come back to Godwin’s Law, that this is the Holocaust. You see, when it’s the Holocaust, all rules are off, because it’s the most horrible and extreme of times, and justifies doing anything you have to do to prevent the Holocaust.

If you truly believe this is the start of the Holocaust, then why are you twitting about it? Grab a gun and go out and start shooting to defend yourself from the Nazis. That’s what one does when faced with the Holocaust. But you aren’t. You’re twitting and Facebooking and basking in your likes and retwits. If you’re really, really aggressive, you’re standing out in the cold holding a snarky sign, because that’s going to change everything.

Is it possible for another Holocaust to happen? Sure, but that’s not an argument that it is, despite its facile appeal. Is Trump using the weapons of a demagogue? Sure seems that way. Are there arguable parallels? Kinda, sorta, if you squint hard and believe with all your might, take some quantum inferential leaps that defy everything else happening around you.

The Muslim Ban? Judges around the country issued stays. The judiciary is functioning to prevent executive overreach. The same judiciary you hated when it prevented the last administration’s overreach. But they are still there, still ruling, and ruling against the executive. And as much as CBP ignored the stays, they also allowed most of the detained entrance. Cops have been ignoring the Constitution forever, and it wasn’t the Holocaust. This isn’t either.

The media is certainly doing its part to beat up Trump for his inanity. He may be demagoguing that they’re all liars and fakes who hate him, but no one has shut them down. Trump’s press secretary spins his story and the media spins theirs in response. This isn’t the Holocaust either.

Chuck Schumer is still getting his minority leader face in front of cameras, saying whatever sells to his constituency. Nobody put him in chains. We still have a loyal opposition. This isn’t the Holocaust.

And the Army hasn’t taken to the streets to quell dissent. For better or worse, a lot of people turned out for the Women’s March, to protest the Executive Order. Nobody stopped them.

So what purpose is served by the hysteria? Aside from the warmth of being part of a group that feels the warm glow of self-righteousness unfettered by reason, the hysteria drives the middle of this nation further away from moderate policies and rational government. How can that be? Because shrieking that everyone who isn’t as hysterical as you is a [the list of words has gotten too long to repeat; just fill it in with whatever epithets warms your giddy heart].

Do you really believe that screaming hysterically at people, calling them every bad word you can think of, convinces them to abandon their feelings for yours? Or is it more likely that you will be perceived, as per Godwin’s Law, as a flaming nutjob?

We are facing massive structural issues, born of many systemic problems that have festered for decades. These gave rise to the election of Donald Trump, who isn’t the cause of the problems but the result of them. Not to repeat myself, but the alternative to bad isn’t necessarily good. It can still be worse. And not to put too fine a point on it, but the alternative to Trump was even less acceptable.

But let’s say I’m wrong and the hysterical screamers that this is the Holocaust are right. Do you think you’re going to prevent it by shooting blindly, crazily, at every shadow? Do you think the battle will be won by some hysterical mob desperately seeking “likes”?

When all around you are losing their heads, it’s most important to remain calm, focused and principled. This is not the Holocaust. Your hysteria will convince no one otherwise. And should it become the Holocaust, hysteria brings nothing to the fight.

38 thoughts on “Godwin’s Law, And Why Hysteria Won’t Win The Day

  1. Erik H.

    I particularly like the concept of the SJWs who want to “impeach Trump,” which suggests they have forgotten who would become president if Trump was impeached.

    1. SHG Post author

      I really can’t imagine what most of this seeks to accomplish. Do they think Hillary will become president if they can be outraged enough? Do they think screaming and calling names is going to persuade others that the sky is falling?

      This is a structural disaster already, but the question of how to come out of the downward spiral isn’t going to be found in hysteria. We can make people more knowledgeable about law and government, or we can make them stupider. That’s the choice at the moment.

      1. Erik H.

        In all seriousness I think a lot of those people DO believe that Hillary can still become president, somehow. Or, perhaps, that they can remove Trump via impeachment.

        At which point they are SURE that the confusion will end. Maybe they think we’ll have an emergency gap filling election? Maybe all the Republicans will resign in disgrace? No matter what, they are sure that Trump’s replacement will be a reasonable person who will return to moderate dealings and recognition of the rightness of the Democratic positions. And who will govern gracefully, without doing much to abuse the control of all houses, until stepping aside for an appropriate Democrat in 2020.

        It’s mind boggling. When faced with such folks, I ask them innocently who will be President once Trump is impeached. Then I watch their face as I tell them who is in line (Pence, then Paul Ryan, then Orrin Hatch, for chrissakes.) Fun times.

    2. Sacho

      CNN are way ahead of you – they ran a blurb trying to figure out how many people need to die before inauguration day so that the Obama administration could remain in power.

  2. Noxx

    Thanks Scott. I’ve been singing this song on social media, to no avail. While this whole series of events is pure shitshow, it’s not Warsaw and I certainly wish people would stop shrieking that it is. I’m not looking forward to dying for a cause, but if “they” start sending trucks around to collect Muslims, then I’ll take my gun and go out in the street. Hell I have extra rifles, you guys and my neighbors are all welcome to them, and if the big bad wolf wants to come haul my neighbors and countrymen away to camps, we’ll make the battle for Stalingrad look like a tea party.

    But it’s not. It’s just not, and the people who are declaring most loudly that it is, are those least likely to pick up a rifle should the time arise. They’re screaming for the UN, they’re publicly calling for coups and assassinations, they want everyone else to pick up the gun and validate their hysterical fantasy. I have my rifle ready to hand, but I’ve got my coffee too, and the hyperbolic greek chorus is ruining my enjoyment of the latter.

  3. Jake D

    “One can either parse these occurrences for what they are, or enjoy blind outrage.”

    Objection. False dichotomy. ‘ It is not true that everyone who objects to the POTUS or his actions and feels (INSERT EMOTION HERE) is a shrieking hysteric. Also, you don’t need a comma before the conjunction ‘or’.

    It is, however, an objective fact that honest observers can identify and compare many parallels shared by this administration’s rise to power/early actions and other fascists in history (including the National Socialist German Workers’ Party).

    Just because Godwin’s Law exists does not mean there is and never can be an accurate application of the comparison. And just because Trump’s administration has YET to burn down the Capitol Building, does not mean they never will.

  4. Jay

    You’re the kid that scolded the group poking at the bee hive with a stick. Americans have spent decades being passive about governance. It’s going to take time for them to learn to do it in a constructive manner. In the meantime I think the chaos is delightful.

  5. JAV

    You’ve stated your doubts in the past, but I think there were times when peaceful protests worked, and when I think of the marches the made the most impact, it’s because of two things, the authorities were actually violent, and the protesters met it with focus and dignity. Like Selma, maybe the drama of the photos have fooled me, but the protesters didn’t stand off and howl insults, the walked right into the clubs knowing what was going to happen.

    Too many people have found their anger, but none of their purpose.

    1. SHG Post author

      Those were acts of peaceful civil disobedience, for which they paid dearly. That, I think, is a critical distinction that can’t be overlooked.

  6. jim ryan

    Godwin’s Law seems to take effect sooner rather than later when the discussionees don’t know about Godwin’s Law.

  7. Turk

    I think you’re diminishing the impact of social media without taking it to its logical next step — enormous numbers of people who were not previously politically active now becoming so. And making phone calls to members of Congress, and likely attending town hall functions in the future to give voice to the pixels.

    The use of social media to vent is merely a first step toward organization.

    1. SHG Post author

      Ilya Slomin has written at length about the impact of political ignorance. This has the potential to change everything. Ilya’s gonna have to work much harder.

  8. Lex

    See Theodore Dalrymple’s “Trivializing the Holocaust II.”

    “Quite apart from its startling lack of intellectual clarity, Saramago’s reply implies that there might be gas chambers in Gaza, and also that their absence would be a minor detail[.]

    “A man who compares the travails of a people with Auschwitz is not so much drawing attention to their plight as to the supposed depth of his compassion for them: a much more important matter in his own estimation. It is not a sign of generosity of spirit: it is a sign of self-absorption and egoism.”


  9. Demoralized Citizen

    I’m a normal human. That is to say that I am not a lawyer, and I do not have enough money to buy influence in Washington. I do not like what is happening. I am concerned about the massive structural issues that have brought us to this point. I do not know how to make anyone listen to me, because of the above. It doesn’t feel like there’s a lot I can do, and my best current idea is “try to become a lawyer”. Do you have any advice what I, or people like me, can actually do to help fix the system?

    1. SHG Post author

      Become knowledgeable (for real, not twitter knowledgeable) about law, politics and governance. Vote. Contribute time and money to causes in which you believe. But first, become knowledgeable. It’s not easy.

  10. B. McLeod

    As every single thing Trump does becomes the new hysteria, the regular cadence of howling will just become lost in the other, ongoing howling. Once everything is howling, nothing stands out.

  11. KP

    “white noise”

    I object! You can’t have white noise, it is exclusionary to those not-of-white-origins who might be wanting to make a noise!

    They might want black noise or multicultural noise or LBGTwhatever noise…

    1. Patrick Maupin

      You’re free to argue for the preeminence of brown noise or pink noise over white noise (or even blue or violet noise if you’re into that sort of thing).

      Me? I’ll break out the popcorn noise and watch.

  12. Pingback: A Side Of Anarchy | Simple Justice

  13. Rick Horowitz

    A bit of a misinterpretation of my comment, no? I’d direct you to my article where I specifically disavow any statement that Trump is Hitler, but I know you have a policy about links. It was titled “Godwin’s Shortcut,” though, if you want to read it. And I haven’t changed my mind about what I said in it.

    [Ed. Note: Since I can, here’s the link to Rick’s post.]

    1. SHG Post author

      Here’s the problem with interpreting a twit: it says what it says. It may not mean what it says, or what it implies, but then, what does it mean?

      I have Jewish lawyer friends who currently stun me. I now understand Jews who walked to their deaths, knowing they were doing so.

      It’s kinda hard to ignore the Holocaust reference in there. Your Godwin’s Shortcut post was written almost a year ago. Much has changed since then.

      1. Rick Horowitz

        Yes, and what the twit says is that I understand how some Jews walked to their deaths knowing they were doing so. That thought was based on the fact that anyone currently mentioning that the warning signs are present for us to be alert to the possibility that fascism is gaining a foothold in our government was (and still is) being met with “pish-posh, Godwin.”

        Some people are referring to Trump as Hitler. I’m not one of them. I have put forth the idea that I see parallels between 1930s Germany, and the contemporary U.S. As I have said, Hitler did not spring fully-formed from the brow of Germany, nor did the Nazis. As I have already said that I am not calling Trump Hitler, I do not mean that Trump is Hitler.

        I do, however, feel that he has taken what—as I think you’ve rightly stated was an Obama move—in a scary direction.

        I anxiously await what is going to happen when/if he continues to get slapped by the courts, especially if that slap comes from the Supremes.

        1. SHG Post author

          I think the point of Godwin is don’t go there unless you’re there, kinda like half pregnant. We can always lay claim in every government to some fascist-type actions. That’s the nature of government. So if we’re not pregnant, we can’t be half pregnant. If he’s Hitler, grab a gun. If not, let’s not “hint” that he could be until we’re sure that he is. Otherwise, Godwin.

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